Living in the shadow of the giants

Ewen Fields, cartref Hyde FC
Gary Pritchard

Gary Pritchard

Wednesday, 24 Apr 2013, 12:56

Whilst the majority of the press seem intent on calling this season the best season ever for Welsh football it seems almost remiss of me to mention Llanelli’s demise.

It’s true that Swansea City have wowed the neutrals in the English Premier League and have also won their first major trophy since winning the Welsh Cup in 1991.

And yes, Cardiff City have taken the Championship by storm and secured their place at English football’s top table alongside their south Walian neighbours.

One certainly doesn’t begrudge these two clubs their success, but it is a sobering thought that Llanelli, one of Wales’ most successful domestic clubs, were wound up in the High Court on Monday for debts equivalent to the average Premiership footballer’s weekly wage.

I’m not about to write a blog post bashing Premiership footballers’ wages, after all, if you were offered an astronomical amount of money to do what you love doing, I’m sure you wouldn’t refuse!

But with two south Wales clubs playing in the self styled ‘best league in the world’ next season, one does begin to worry about Welsh domestic football clubs.

Former Leeds United and Welsh international defender, Mark Aizlewood, who is currently manager of Carmarthen Town told Sgorio that he feared for Welsh Premier League clubs on the M4 corridor.

Next season’s Welsh Premier League will see just three clubs to the south of Aberystwyth; Carmarthen Town, Port Talbot and either Afan Lido or Haverfordwest County.

Cwmbran, Barry Town, UWIC, Inter Cardiff, Ebbw Vale and Ton Pentre have long since disappeared and there doesn’t seem to be the same appetite for promotion to the national league by the south Wales clubs.

Obviously, Welsh Premier League clubs find it impossible to compete with their English counterparts on almost every level, so a more pertinent question might be to ask what the two south Walian giants could do to help their local domestic clubs?

A few weeks ago, I travelled with my son to watch Wrexham play at Ewen Fields, the home of Hyde FC, a club which was faced with a High Court winding up order in 2009 … sound familiar?

With debts totalling £120,000, the clubs’ officials and supporters set about raising much needed funds to save their club.

A bucket collection was held outside the City of Manchester Stadium before a Premier League match involving their millionaire neighbours, Manchester City.

A year later, the directors at Hyde had struck a deal which saw Manchester City agree to play their reserve matches at Ewen Fields.

City spent £250,000 refurbishing the stadium, bringing the pitch up to Premier League standards and the annual rent paid by the Premier League giants keeps Hyde alive.

Some might say that Hyde have sold their soul. The word United was dropped from the club’s name, their kit changed from red and white to navy and white and Ewen Fields is plastered with Manchester City badges.

And whilst it’s a fine line to tread, without City’s money, Hyde would have gone the way of Scarborough, Rushden & Diamonds, Neath and Llanelli.

As well as the first team, English Premier League sides have reserve sides and academy teams at under 21 and under 18 level.

Could Swansea and Cardiff look upon the Welsh Premier League in as philanthropic a manner as Manchester City have dealt with Hyde?

Rather than playing some games at Parc y Scarlets, should Swansea City not helping their footballing brethren by comitting to play their reserve matches at Stebonheath?

Could Cardiff City be helping Barry Town by playing their reserve matches or academy teams at Jenner Park, perhaps?

Manchester City’s reserves regular attract four figure crowds to Hyde with the tea huts make a roaring trade.

And the few hundred curious Manchester City fans who have swelled Hyde’s average gate in the Blue Square Premier since their partnership started, keep the club ticking over too.

Rather than seeing Swansea City and Cardiff City as an insurmountable problem for south Wales’ smaller clubs, it might be better to start by asking how one can ride the wake of their success.